About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married, with spectacular stepdaughter, crazy dog, and cat living in the Capital District of New York State.

The Nones Are Alright – a book review

978-1-62698-157-7My day job as parish secretary brings me into contact with numerous people, often seeking sacraments; one of the most frequent being infant baptism. A young mom or dad reaches out, sometimes tentatively, to inquire about how to proceed. More often than not, they are not regular church-goers, sometimes they were married at the parish, or simply grew up there. It is a joy to encounter them and help them in whatever way I can. If they follow through, it becomes my job to collect information so that the great welcome of the new child can begin.

That’s when it might get sticky, when I get to godparent(s) requirements. According to Canon Law Continue reading

All you holy men and women

imagesToday we celebrate All Saints Day. Do you have a favorite saint? If so, who is it? I am hard pressed when I ask myself that question… St Francis, St Teresa of Avila, St Ignatius Loyola, St Juan Diego, St Kateri Tekakwitha, St Dominic…  I could go on and on. Also there are those on the way to sainthood, such as Blessed Oscar Romero, Servant of God Isaac Hecker, and so many more.

The saints remind us that God works with what God has made and with what we bring when we show up. God can transform all of us, no matter what. Thanks be to God!

I’m not a theologian, but…

Chris%2520Robinson%2520%2526%2520Peter%2520Bergman%252C%2520Vicks%2520ads-8x6Years ago, there were some TV commercials for a cough syrup that became “viral” in the 80’s sense of the word, for the tagline, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” This came to mind as I began work on this post, thinking, “I’m not a theologian, but I play one on social media.” Am I an impostor? Yes, I earned a degree from a theological institution, but to be clear, it is a a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies – not theology. Am I qualified to speak on matters of church?

This is on my mind as a very public war wages on, with me involved in some small way. New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat has been railing on about Pope Francis for quite a while now. Douthat is a Catholic, a convert, and while I am loathe to use this language, is a conservative Catholic. Am I a liberal Catholic? Many might say so, but frankly, I disdain the labels.

One of my social media connections, Dr. Massimo Faggioli, is a theologian, scholar, author, and an expert on Vatican matters. In recent weeks, he and Douthat have been slugging it out on Twitter, culminating in an open letter to the New York Times, penned by Faggioli and esteemed Jesuit, scholar, and author, John O’Malley SJ, and signed by theologians. As you might imagine, this letter has created a social media firestorm. (All of which, this post included, benefits the NYT and Douthat – page views baby, it is all about page views.) The Daily Theology blog published a copy of the letter so that others could have their names added as signers. And yes, it feels a bit awkward for me to look at the post/letter as it exists, to see my own name… and no corresponding institution of higher education listed for me. Dr. Stephen Okey, who posted the letter asked me about what it should say… I could not say either my work or worship parishes, the opinion was my own. And I am a proud alumni of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, but my degree is not in theology – nor am I a student any longer. In the end, I let it be. As I said, now that feels awkward.

But is it awkward?

9780814647073Yes – and no. Two other posts, and countless other social media posts regarding this issue bring this into focus. Both examine the questions – must one be credentialed two speak about the church in a public forum? That along with a recent conversation (held on social media, natch) with the church social media-ista of them all (see book on left), my good friend Meredith Gould.  I’ll start with that last one… Meredith and I were discussing theology in another context, and whether or not it was a dusty old way of seeing things. For the record, it is not dusty for me, but as always, Meredith shows me other points of view that lead me to new places. Anyway, her point was brought back to me as I navigated this current matter.

The first of the aforementioned posts is from Catholic author Kaya Oakes, writing at Religion Dispatches. Kaya is herself a lecturer in the college writing program at the University of California at Berkley. Kaya, rightfully so, addresses the question, does one need to be credentialed in order to speak or write about the church and matters theological? Read the post, it is a good one. The other important post is “Why I Signed the Letter” from theologian Katie Grimes at Women in Theology. Katie addresses that perhaps all the blowback about credentials -and privilege too. Also a great read, one that has a number of theologians commenting on how they would have signed that letter instead. Me? I am fine with my first signature, but am grateful for the clarity brought forth by Katie, Kaya, and others.

giphyThis momentary firestorm is important for another reason for me, one that I find incredibly frustrating. Did I say INCREDIBLY FRUSTRATING? Sorry, I did not mean to should, but yes, I’m frustrated because of something at large…

Picture this, a New York Times or any other major media outlet for that matter, publishes an op-ed column that is critical of the pope or the church. Oh wait, that has happened, this is but one of a number of examples, or maybe this. (Note, I am not a fan of the first columnist. At. All. The second, it depends.) Perhaps the New York Times is considered anti-Catholic, which I agree it has been over time. What happens? Maybe someone in the hierarchy is critical of the paper, for example, like this. Perhaps the paper even points out some inconsistencies of said cleric.

Is it me, or has there been a real silence around any recent criticism of Pope Francis, the church, the Synod on the Family? Douthat, not for nothing, is remarkably uninformed about church history, theology, doctrine, and typically his writing lacks any context. Yet, does he get criticized by the church proper, as does his colleague Maureen Dowd? If this has happened, I have missed it. Is the New York Times being anti-Catholic when Ross Douthat writes all that he has written lately?

john-henry-newman-quotes-39250That inconsistency is worse than the Douthat thing in and of itself, and I am really struggling. I’m glad that I signed the letter, even if I am not an academic or a theologian. I do believe that the posts from both Oakes and Grimes elucidate the original situation going back to Faggioli and Douthat first going at it. That said, I wish that we would all shut up a bit, me included, (nice to add as I approach a 1000 word count… ugh) and find ways to look at ourselves as church, one Body in Christ.  Anyway, as you consider this long ramble, remember – I am not a theologian, and quite possibly, neither are you. However, we are all members of the big body, and yes – we all must change.


Do you use Instagram? I do! How I love it and use it often! Words are often less adequate, which I say as a writer. It is as a photographer that I encounter images which will often pop for me;  they simply express so much more. I am definitely someone who primarily thinks in images.

If you are an Instagram user, you are aware of the use of #hashtags on that site. There are many! More than a few of the ones used by me have been made up by me – I think! For example, #sfmw and #sfmg mean scenes from my walk, and scenes from my garden.  Anyway, I’ve taken to using another tag lately – #VisualTheology. Let me tell you -I am not the only one using that to describe my photos! As I see God and theology all around me in images, this hashtag is powerful for me.

This post introduces some of my #VisualTheology photos that I will periodically bring to the blog. Let me know what you think, and please follow me on Instagram if you wish.

Last full day in #tucson. #grateful #morning #sky #sunrise #visualtheology #sfmw

Last full day in #tucson. #grateful #morning #sky #sunrise #visualtheology #sfmw

Above you see my my first image for #VisualTheology, on this blog, a photo that was taken last week when I was in Tuscon. As I am having trouble embedding the actual Instagram image, I will insert it from my camera roll and add my own tags. Expect to see more like this!


Disappointed? Stick around!

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

“I’m not idealistic about any kind of human project. I try and always keep that in check. I’m completely idealistic about God’s ability to redeem our stuff and our mistakes, but I think if we aren’t open about the fact that we’ve made them, that can be a barrier to experiencing that forgiveness and that redemption and that grace.

So I think in a way what might sound sort of cynical about, you know, don’t trust us, don’t be idealistic about this community or about me, to me that just opens a door for grace in a sense. Because what I say to people, I mean, I literally say that as our welcome to house brunches — like, I’m glad you love it here, but like at some point, I will disappoint you or the church will let you down. Please decide on this side of that happening if, after it happens, you will still stick around. Because if you leave, you will miss the way that God’s grace comes in and fills in the cracks of our brokenness. And it’s too beautiful to miss. Don’t miss it.” –Nadia Bolz-Weber, from On Being with Krista Tippett 10/24/14

If you are not familiar with Nadia Bolz-Weber is, this is a good time to go find out. A quick check of your google machine will Continue reading

Unchanging, yet transforming

Pope Francis talks with cardinals as he leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi (no relation!)

Pope Francis talks with cardinals as he leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi (no relation!)

(Today I present a few rambling, insomnia fueled thoughts on the Synod on the Family and the state of the Church. I hope you will consider commenting, and I hope that no matter what you say, you will pray before doing so. The pause offers us all a moment of grace. How we move forward depends on the bishops – yes, but also the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us hope for the best – even if that best breaks our hearts. What are you praying for?)

You are more than likely aware of the Synod on the Family that began last year, which has resumed in Rome at this time. Depending on how you look at things, we are Continue reading

Let’s talk…

Pope Francis Why Throw RocksPope Francis arrives in the US today, and there is so much chatter and commentary, disagreement and discord, that it might become very easy to miss his – and ultimately God’s – message to us.

Something he said in Cuba on Monday struck me:

“If you are different than me, why don’t we talk?” Francis asked the crowd. “Why do we always throw rocks at that which separates us?”

Some questions for reflection, and please do comment if you wish…

  • How can we find pathways to conversation with those with whom we disagree?
  • How important is it for each of us to be “right?”
  • What is the danger in changing our minds or hearts?